Sex worker rights groups, individuals launch constitutional challenge of portions of Criminal Code

SafeSpace London's drop-in centre on 96 Rectory Street. Chris Aino Pihlak / GoFundMe

A London, Ont., woman who successfully challenged portions of Canada’s Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36) in provincial court is among the applicants to a constitutional challenge that aims to strike down several provisions within the legislation.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform — which counts SafeSpace London as among its 25 member organizations — individual applicants who have worked as sex workers, and former escort agency operator Tiffany Anwar are launching a constitutional challenge of several amendments to the Criminal Code that were enacted when Bill C-36 was passed by the federal government.

The alliance says they’ve filed a Notice of Application seeking to strike down the sex work prohibitions against impeding traffic, public communication, purchasing, materially benefiting, recruiting, and advertising in the Criminal Code, alleging that “they violate sex workers’ constitutional rights to security, personal autonomy, life, liberty, free expression, free association, and equality.”

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The legislation, which criminalizes the purchasing of sex but decriminalizes its sale, came into effect in 2014 under a Conservative government after the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s previous laws in 2013 for being unconstitutional.

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The court ruled that the old laws imposed “dangerous conditions on prostitution” and prevented people engaged in a “risky, but legal, activity from taking steps to protect themselves.”

SafeSpace London board member Melissa Lukings argues that the current approach fails to distinguish between trafficking and sex work.

“Human trafficking is not good. We’re all on board with that,” she told Global News.

“But these detection tools and the training fail to distinguish between trafficking and sex work. And that means that the anti-trafficking initiatives effectively become anti-sex work initiatives.”

Londoner Tiffany Anwar is being represented by James Lockyer in the challenge, who also represented she and her husband, Hamad Marcus Anwar, in a case dating back to 2015 when they were charged in connection with running an escort agency known as Fantasy World Escorts.

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Last February, the case concluded with an Ontario judge ruling that significant parts of the legislation banning advertising in the sex trade or making money from sexual services are unconstitutional.

However, because that judgment was from a provincial court, it would only be binding if an appeal was launched and an appellate court sided with the judge.

No appeal was filed.

In the current case, Lockyer tells Global News that no response has been filed yet and “it will take some time to work through the court.”

— with files from The Canadian Press’ Colin Perkel and Global News’ Laura Hensley and Rachel Browne.

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